Thursday, May 8, 2014

By Emily Aizawa

The 2014 Excellence of Research Award was given to Eva Top, professor of biology in the University of Idaho College of Science and the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies.

The Excellence of Research Award recognizes and encourages merit in all forms of scholarly research and creative activity.

“It’s a very good feeling,” Top said. “It shows that people appreciate your research and what you do. I knew that I had been nominated but I didn’t really expect to be nominated, so it was very cool.”

Top has been with the University of Idaho for 13 years. She received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in bioengineering and her Ph. D. in agricultural sciences at Belgium’s Ghent University.

Top has worked on many research projects, but the focus of the award was on her current research of the ecology and evolution of antibiotic resistant plasmids.

Plasmids are small pieces of DNA found in most bacterial cells separately in the chromosome, exchanging bacteria and often resisting multiple antibiotics, she said.

When two bacteria meet, they can exchange a piece of DNA and when that DNA is coded for resistance against a certain drug, both bacteria are now resistant. Some plasmids have multiple drug resistant genes, so the bacterium can come resistant to 10 different antibiotics in the process of a few minutes of exchanging DNA.

“That’s part of the problem we are facing today,” Top said. “So many bacteria have become multi-drug resistant, because it’s very easy in a way to acquire these resistant markers.”

Since plasmids play a large role in the increasing

spread of antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens, it is crucial to understand when the plasmids come in a new bacterium, what makes a plasmid more stable in some bacteria than in others and how they can adapt to new bacterium to become more persistent in the population of bacteria, she said.

“We want to understand that because the antibiotic resistance is not lost even when you aren’t taking antibiotics,” Top said. “That means those bacteria stay resistant. So the next time you take the same antibiotic, you may not respond.”

Top received $5,000 for the award to further her research in understanding plasmids.

An undergraduate researcher in Top’s lab, Bethel Kohler said she loves working in the lab.

“It was hard at first, very intense, and I almost dropped,” she said. “But (Top) was really supportive and we talked and figured out a way to make it work into my schedule.”

Kelsie Bashford, a senior biology major who has worked in the lab for two years, said it’s been great because Top encourages undergraduates to experience different things in the lab.

Jack McIver, UI Vice President for Research and Economic Development, said Top is an exemplary researcher.

“She provides her expertise not only to international conversations regarding antibiotic resistance and plasmid biology, but also to the growing University of Idaho biological research community,” McIver said. “Her work with the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology graduate degree program introduces the next generation of scientists to this vital area of research.”



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